Human Rights News
Background on War in Iraq FREE    Join the HRW Mailing List 

Open Letter on War in Iraq

March 2003

Dear Friend,

The war in Iraq has begun. Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the human rights and humanitarian consequences. We have sent teams of investigators to Iraq and neighboring countries, but we need your help to support their work.

As you know from our work in Kosovo and Afghanistan, our quick action in Iraq can save lives, prevent atrocities, and stop the persecution of minorities and refugees. By accurately reporting on human rights abuses as they occur, Human Rights Watch can help end them and prevent further violations from being committed.

To cover our response to the war and its immediate aftermath, we need to raise emergency funds. Unfortunately, we’re facing this challenge at a time when our budget is already severely strained by the faltering economy. We cannot meet this emergency without special help from friends and supporters like you.

I’m sure you are as concerned as I am about the human rights and humanitarian consequences of this war. The U.S.-Iraq war could cause enormous civilian casualties and massive refugee flows. Saddam Hussein may turn on his own people as an act of revenge or to impede the invasion. Iraqi civilians also face threats from forces opposed to Saddam Hussein. When Iraqi citizens attempt to flee, neighboring countries may close their borders and block the safe passage of refugees.

In the face of such a horrendous crisis, you may wonder what Human Rights Watch can expect to accomplish. Let me assure you that there are clear steps we can take to lessen the harm to civilians.

In dialogue with the Pentagon and through the press, we have insisted that all feasible precautions be taken to avoid harm to civilians. We are also pushing the Pentagon to avoid dropping cluster bombs near populated areas. These bombs caused about a quarter of the civilian deaths during the Kosovo war. And we are pressing the Pentagon to refrain from attacking infrastructure that is essential to the survival of Iraq’s weakened, ration-dependent people.

To stop Saddam Hussein from committing further atrocities against his own people, we will threaten prosecution of anyone who carries out his murderous orders. Our on-the-ground reporting of atrocities can expose these abuses immediately to the international community, so that protective steps can be taken.

To protect refugees from grievous suffering, we are pressing Iraq’s neighbors to accept and shelter people fleeing the fighting and provide them with basic necessities. With our on-the-ground investigations and reporting, we will then seek to hold these governments to their obligations.

Finally, we must ensure that the potential downfall of Saddam Hussein does not lead to chaos and renewed repression. In Afghanistan, the U.S. government has largely delegated security outside the capital to warlords who sometimes reinstate Taliban-like rule. Our extensive reporting on this abdication of responsibility has helped push the Pentagon to deploy additional troops to protect civilians. Through our presence in post-war Iraq, we will push the U.S. government to prosecute, rather than embrace, abusive Iraqi leaders.

Only Human Rights Watch can take on this challenge. We can’t depend on broadcast journalists to report on human rights violations. They may report “allegations,” but it takes Human Rights Watch’s careful investigations to confirm the facts sufficiently to insist on action. We then disseminate our finding promptly — often daily. To ensure maximum impact, we translate our findings into multiple languages, including Arabic.

We urgently need your support. The emergency funds that we desperately need to raise will enable our researchers to continue their life-saving work.

Together, we can be a powerful force for the protection of innocent civilians in Iraq.


Kenneth Roth
Executive Director